For parents going through a breakup or divorce, custody is often a primary concern.
In order to successfully advocate for a fair custody arrangement in family court, parents need to understand what the custody laws are in their location and what type of information they need to have for court.
Take a look at what Colorado parents need to know about determining custody and custody schedules.
Many parents think about custody in terms of joint or sole custody. But in Colorado, you’ll need to think in terms of parental responsibility.
Colorado family courts don’t use the terms joint or sole custody. Instead, they allocate parental responsibility.
If the child lives with and is cared for by one parent the majority of the time, that parent is said to have primary parental responsibility. If the living arrangements and parenting time are split more equally, that is called joint parental responsibility. The child doesn’t have to spend exactly 50% of their time with each parent for the parents to have joint parental responsibility.
Decision-making responsibility is also considered a separate matter from residential parental responsibility. Decision-making responsibility is the ability to make significant decisions that affect the child’s life, like where they go to school, what kind of medical treatment they receive, and what their religious education will be if any.
Decision-making responsibility is not necessarily divided the same way that residential parental responsibility is.
One parent may have sole decision-making responsibility, which means that they can make those decisions without consulting the other parent, or the parents may share joint decision-making responsibility, which means that they must consult each other and agree on important decisions for their children.
One parent could have sole decision-making responsibility even if both parents share residential responsibility, or one parent could have primary residential responsibility but share joint decision-making responsibility with the other partner, depending on circumstances.
In Colorado, parents going through a divorce or a custody case will eventually need to agree to a parenting plan. This is essentially a schedule that outlines when each parent will spend time with the child and what their responsibilities are.
Parents can choose to create a parenting plan themselves, either alone or with the help of lawyers or a mediator. If parents cannot come to an agreement on their own, however, the court will assign a parenting plan for the parents to follow.
Commonly used parenting plans include a week-on, week-off schedule, or a schedule where parents alternate between having five days with the child one week, then two days the next week.
The parenting plan will be official when the judge approves a permanent order. While the court cases in ongoing, family courts may issue temporary orders for parents to follow until a permanent order can be established.
Despite the word “permanent”, a parenting plan can be modified at any time following the conclusion of the custody case if it’s in the child’s best interest to do so. It’s not unusual for parenting plans to change as family circumstances and obligations change or as the child grows and begins to have their own schedule and obligations that need to be taken into consideration.
However, courts usually won’t approve a significant change in the amount of time that a child is to spend with each parent unless the current situation poses a significant risk to the child’s health and wellbeing.
This means that while the details of the parenting schedule may change, the child should continue to spend about the same amount of time with each parent, absent extraordinary circumstances.
Child’s Input on Custody
In Colorado, there’s no specific age at which children are given input into custody arrangements or parenting plans. The court can take a child’s opinion into account and give it weight based on the child’s age, maturity level, and other factors – however, the court isn’t obligated to give the child exactly what they ask for.
Children don’t have to give the court an opinion on custody matters or parenting time if they don’t want to, and they usually don’t have to speak in court.
In fact, parents are typically discouraged from involving their children in court procedures related to custody.
Best Interests of the Child
Like other family courts across the country, Colorado family courts consider custody cases through the lens of the best interests of the child.
To that end, family court judges are looking for parents to provide their children with safe and healthy environments, take an interest in their child’s school activities and other hobbies, and practice consistency in parenting – such as showing up on time for scheduled visits and sticking to a schedule.
They’re also looking for parents to demonstrate a willingness to work with the other parent and cooperate and compromise when need be.
Parents who are trying to achieve a specific outcome in their custody case should be sure to keep accurate records of everything – when they spent time with their children, when the other parent was late or failed to produce the children for a scheduled visit, anything the other parent has done that might pose a danger to the children, and any records of communication between you and your ex.
The more documentation you have that supports your custody claim, the better off you’ll be.
“Where Should I Start?”
A legal resources group like National Family Solutions can help you prepare for family court in Colorado.
National Family Solutions can help you with storing documentation, filing court documents, and preparing to testify in court, among other things.
This may be the assistance you need to win your custody case in Colorado.